Northern Ireland, Rowallane’s Lower Walled Garden

One of the things I really love about exploring gardens is the wonderful variety of plants that gardeners use to express their vision of their garden – for no two gardens are alike. They invariably express something about their creator.

And of the plants themselves? Some are old friends that I have enjoyed seeing many, many times: some are variations of those old friends. And some are completely new to me. And I am impelled to learn more about them – to learn their story. I am not a plant expert with botanical names at the tip of my tongue like my horticulturist friends. Neither do I know in what conditions and with what care many plants should be grown. What I love about plants is their colour, their texture, their shape, their form. I love to look deep inside a flower, to see how it’s made.  And I love the tiny ones just as much as the big, blowsy ‘look-at-me’ types. I enjoy looking to see how each gardener puts all those traits together – for that is the art of garden design. And my photography aims to express the ‘essence ‘of each garden and explore the character of flowers.

Rowallane’s walled gardens are those of a dedicated plantsman, Hugh Armytage Moore, a collector of a rich variety of plants and seeds originating from all corners of the globe.  So I expected that a walk in these two walled gardens would be something of a ‘world tour’ of plants and I was not disappointed in that. We found plants growing happily side by side that came originally from places as far apart as Africa, Chile, Asia, the Himalaya and across Europe.

We began our wander in the smaller, lower garden.  It wraps around the larger rectangular walled garden in an L shape.  The shorter side is flat and shaded with a pond as the focal point. The longer side rises up a slope allowing for plants that need a warm, sunny but sheltered place against a wall. And here there are glimpses of the woods beyond.

The path from the stable area leads across the ‘foot’ of the L shape.  This was once the nursery area and one can really imagine Hugh Armytage Moore and his gardeners working in here on their plant cultivation and propagation. Many of the plants seen in the gardens today are the result of their untiring efforts. (For his story, read the previous journal entry which relates to the history and development of the garden.)  The first plant that caught our eye was the yellow flowered Phlomis in the very foreground of this photo. Neither of us had seen it before.

Phlomis sp.

This close up of the Phlomis flower buds emerging shows the prickly ‘encasement’ whirl, the ones at the top unfurling first.  With their sweet nectar, these flowers attract birds, bees and butterflies, insects and ants – like the one above.

Phlomis sp.

This group of Phlomis plants certainly ‘grabs’ attention. The tubular flowers, arranged in tiered whirls, are spaced out along stiff upright stems which rise above the mass of deep green foliage. It certainly is a show stopper, accentuated by the softer leaved, pale mauve flowers in the background.

Further along, the garden was a vision of green set off by the variegated leaves on the right hand side and by that touch of red/orange in the background towards the left beyond the tree.  When I see this touch of red in a green ‘landscape’, I’m always reminded of that famous English artist, John Constable, who often used small brush strokes of red paint to direct the eye through the landscape and to emphasise the intensity of the greens and browns. It always works!

The plants in the small pond area are all green. Here the white urns are used to relieve the greens. A skilful blend of the textures and shapes of ferns and grasses take the eye in a circular motion around the pond. In the background, the old grey stone wall is softened by an espaliered tree. In the fore ground are the very different, softer, more rounded leaves of one of the lovely Alchemilla species, or Lady’s Mantle, growing over the edging rocks.


One of the benefits of ‘walking in the rain’ in a garden like this, is to enjoy the beauty of raindrops on Lady’s Mantle leaves. Maybe that’s why in rainy Ireland, this plant is so often used as rock covering and path edging in gardens! The origins of most species of Alchemilla is Europe, but not Ireland, with only one species being native to Antrim in Northern Ireland.  I delighted in this plant when I lived in Switzerland and was pleased to find it here – as an old friend.

Several leaves in this area made perfect receptacles for jewel-like ‘crystals’ of rain. How perfect is this one?


That dash of red amongst the greens in an earlier photo was this clump of Primula bulleyana , better known to most as Candelabra primula. They originate in China and the Himalaya and enjoy woodlands, damp or even WET places. They had found a perfect home here!  The softness of these flowers was in perfect contrast to the great, architectural leaves of Gunnera behind them. Most large leaved Gunnera, a genus named after the Norwegian botanist Johann Ernst Gunnerus, originate in South American countries like Brazil, Chile and Columbia.  Gunnera is sometimes called ‘giant rhubarb’, although it’s not for the dessert plate!  It also likes to live in damp conditions, so these two very different types of plants, from two different continents, two different hemispheres, live happily together in this ‘global’  garden.  

Another plant used to make a textural statement in this area is a Hosta, with leaves that also catch those rain drops. Hostas originate in China and Japan and were introduced to Europe in the mid 19thcentury. More recently, some species have been discovered on the Korean peninsula.  Although there are about 45 species of Hosta, it’s estimated that there are over 3,000 varieties available to gardeners because of hybridization among the many species.  No wonder they are so popular with gardeners in so many parts of the world. The red on these leaves are the fallen petals from the tree above – another example of a touch of  red highlighting green.

The tree in question is the delightful, Crinodendron hookerianum.  Its botanical name comes from the Greek: krinon meaning lily and dendron meaning tree. It’s common name is Chilean Lantern Tree and, yes, it is endemic to Chile.

Botanically, the flowers are urceolate in shape – shaped like a pitcher or urn – though in this case upside down.  And the shiny dark green leaves are alternate and described as llanceolate, long and narrow with a pointy tip – lance shaped.

It’s not just the flowers that are fascinating but the dagger-like seed heads are interesting, too. It’s a difficult plant to photograph. To begin with the flowers are red – always a problem, and the rain makes the waxy petals and leaves even shiner, throwing back the light. It’s another plant in this garden that is far from its original home – half a world away.

The Crinodendron (left) shelters in the corner of the garden where the old stone wall meets a newer stone and brick wall. Beyond the wall is a glimpse of the woods. Those trees not only provide a delightful background to this garden, but, and very importantly, they provide shelter for the tender plants in this garden from the worst of the weather.

Martagon Lilies, Lilium Martagon var. Alba

Turk’s cap lilies always make a statement in a garden. These white ones are Lilium Martagon var. Alba.

The Martagon lily is common in Europe especially in the Alps where it’s generally found in meadows up to an elevation of 2100 m (7000 ft.).  There are several white forms in cultivation, like L. martagon var. Alba, which has been grown as a garden plant since the 16th century. It received a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society as long ago as 1889.  It’s a very stately plant with up to twenty flowers on stems that are strong enough to withstand wind.

Lilium Martagon var. Alba

The clear ivory white flowers with their perianth segments rolled backwards are complemented by the orange anthers. Many of the other  lilies had been spoiled by the rain – but not these beauties. They were enhanced by the rain drops.


Another plant to catch the eye in this part of the garden was Astrantia, an herbaceous plant native to central, eastern and southern Europe and the Caucasus.  The name comes from the Greek word for star – an obvious reference to the flower.   Their common name is Great Masterwart – not to be confused with Masterwart, Peucedanum ostruthium. It is this sort of confusing common naming of plants that makes it so important to refer to their botanical names.

This beautiful flower, in close up, shows just how complicated a seemingly simple flower can be!

We were to see Astrantia used in many gardens. It’s a compact plant with many flowers that  works well in boarders.

It was delightful to spend time in this peaceful garden. We had it all to ourselves – maybe a plus for a  rainy day!

But we still had the larger walled garden to explore, so it was time to wander back by the pond and find the arch that would lead us into the main garden. And the plants we found in that garden will be the subject of my next journal.

Photography  ©  JT of  jtdytravels

Rowallane is just south of Saintfield on the Belfast to Downpatrick Road. It’s a National Trust Garden.

One comment on “Northern Ireland, Rowallane’s Lower Walled Garden

  1. Very interesting details you have observed, regards for posting.

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